The red and yellow striped tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) fill a sandwich or a salad with their tart-sweet flavor, making them a gardener's favorite. "Mr. Stripey" is an indeterminate, beefsteak-style, heirloom tomato developed in the 1800s in Virginia. Grown as annuals in the vegetable garden, tomatoes are actually tender perennials that can overwinter in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11.
Preparing the Garden
Select a sunny, sheltered location in the garden that receives eight hours or more of sunlight daily. Prepare the soil by digging in 2 to 3 inches of compost to a depth of 1 foot. Seven to 10 days before planting the seedlings, place black plastic sheeting over the garden soil to warm it.
Before planting the tomatoes, cut a series of holes into the plastic sheeting, spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. Dig a hole for a seedling at each opening, making it deep enough that only the top set of leaves appear above the soil. Cover the lower stem and leaves with soil, gently tamping to remove air pockets. Add a stake or tomato cage for each plant.
Water and Fertilizer
Water the seedlings thoroughly after planting, then continue to water when the soil is dry to the depth of 2 to 3 inches. Keep a consistent level of moisture through the growing season, as "Mr. Stripey" tomatoes are prone to cracking if the soil dries out and then receives too much water. In general, apply 1 inch of water per week, or 5 gallons for every square yard of soil. When the weather warms, remove the black plastic and cover the soil with mulch to slow evaporation of water from the soil.
The compost provides the first nutrients for the seedlings, but when the tomatoes develop to golf ball size, add 1 tablespoon of a 10-10-10 fertilizer to each plant after watering, scratching it into the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. Repeat fertilizing three and six weeks later. Organic gardeners may prefer to water weekly with 1 cup of compost tea per plant.
Pests and Problems
Monitor the tomato plants for pests. Tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) can decimate the leaves, flowers and developing fruit. While you can spray with a ready-to-use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) product, hornworms are easy to hand-pick from the tomato plants. Put on gloves and look carefully down the tomato stem where the leaves have been chewed to stumps. Pick the green hornworm off the stem and drop it into a bucket of soapy water to drown.
Blossom end rot and sunscald are mostly due to environmental factors. Maintaining a consistent level of moisture in the soil by regularly watering and adding a layer of organic mulch helps reduce blossom end rot. Remove affected fruits and dispose of them as soon as possible. Prevent sunscald on "Mr. Stripey" by providing afternoon shade when the weather is hot and dry. Shade cloth or a white sheet draped over bamboo stakes protect the tender skin of the developing fruits from the sun.
Harvest "Mr. Stripey" tomatoes approximately 80 days after transplanting into the garden. The large fruits ripen to reddish-orange with yellow stripes. If the fruits developed cracks, harvest, cut the damaged area out and use the tomato immediately. The harvest time and mature size of your heirloom fruits may vary according to local conditions and your supplier. Because "Mr. Stripey" is an heirloom, open-pollinated tomato, there are some variations between seed suppliers.
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